From Academic Kids

The moated manor house of Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire, England
The moated manor house of Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire, England

Moats were deep and wide water-filled trenches, to provide a barrier against attack upon castle ramparts or other fortifications. A moat made access to the walls difficult for siege weapons such as a siege tower or battering ram that needed to be brought up against a wall to be effective. Very importantly, a water filled moat made very difficult the practice of sapping, that is to say digging tunnels under the fortifications in order to effect a collapse of the defenses.

The word was adapted in Middle English from the French motte "mound, hillock" and was first applied to the central mound on which a fortification was erected (see Motte and bailey), and then came to be applied to the excavated ring, a "dry moat".

In the violent conditions of the 14th and 15th centuries, though defensive walling required a charter from the king, a moat round a manor house could deter all but the most determined intruders (illustration, right). See also Ightham Mote.

Often streams were diverted in the Middle Ages to fill the ditch. Moats required upkeep. They had to be dredged for debris which could potentially form a traversable bridge from one side to another.

Withdrawable bridges spanned moats in the Middle Ages. At first they were only simple wooden bridges that could easily be destroyed if an enemy was about to breach the fortifications. Later flying bridges and drawbridges were used for moat spans.

 rises from its moat
Bodiam Castle rises from its moat

Moats sometimes had long woden spikes in them, to prevent enemies from swimming across.

While moats are commonly associated with European castles, they were also developed by North American Indians of the Mississippian culture as the outer defense of some fortified villages. The remains of a 16th century moat are still visible at the Parkin Archeological State Park in eastern Arkansas.

Moats rather than fences separate animals from spectators in many modern zoo installations. The structure, with a vertical outer retaining wall rising directly from the moat, is an extension of the Haha of landscape gardening.


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